How ADHD Is Diagnosed

Who Can Diagnose ADHD?

Titles and job descriptions can be confusing, especially in the alphabet soup of PhDs, M.D.s, LCSWs and others. What difference does it make?

How to Treat ADHD Symptoms with ADHD Medication Like Ritalin
How to Treat ADHD Symptoms with ADHD Medication Like Ritalin

Choosing the appropriate professional for an ADHD diagnosis — as well as the subsequent treatment — can be hard. Each specialty has strengths and weaknesses. Here is a short list of who does what when it comes to diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist, an M.D. who treats the brain, may prescribe medication or other treatment.

Advantages:

  • Trained in diagnosis
  • Able to diagnose, prescribe medication and treat.

Disadvantages

  • Cost — fees usually start at about $200 an hour and go up from there.
  • While psychiatrists can diagnose and treat, they may not be trained in counseling, especially in the areas of day-to-day life skills which may be needed by the person who has ADHD.

The Psychologist

A psychologist understands how the mind works, but is not an M.D. and cannot prescribe medications. If the psychologist feels that medications are called for, he or she will have to refer the patient to either a medical doctor or a psychiatrist.

Advantages:

  • Trained in diagnosis
  • Trained in counseling
  • Cost less than a psychiatrist

Disadvantages

  • Cannot prescribe medications
  • Need to refer for MRI or any other testing which could assist in diagnosis.

Your Family Doctor

Most family doctors know of ADHD, but may lack the extensive knowledge of more specialized professionals.

Advantages:

  • Is already familiar with you and your medical history
  • Is usually easier to see for an appointment
  • Can prescribe medications if needed
  • Less expensive

Disadvantages

  • May have limited experience with ADHD, especially in adults
  • Cannot offer counseling
  • Brief office visits often mean a hurried diagnosis

The Nurse Practitioner

Often working with a general practitioner — although in many states nurse practitioners work independently in diagnosing and prescribing medication — the nurse practitioner offers many of the same benefits and drawbacks as a family doctor.

Advantages:

  • Is usually easier to see for an appointment
  • Can prescribe medications if needed
  • Less expensive

ADD Vs. ADHD — What’s the Difference, Anyway?


Disadvantages

  • May not offer counseling (although many nurse practitioners, especially psychiatric nurse practitioners, are trained equally in the medical treatment of mental health disorders as well as therapeutic interventions, including counseling)

The Neurologist

A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in treatment of the brain and central nervous system.

Advantages:

  • Can determine if other conditions such as seizure disorder are present.

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive
  • EEG testing for ADHD isn’t needed for diagnosis or treatment
  • Patient must be referred for any counseling or therapy

The Master Level Counselor

A Master level counselor has a master’s degree in either psychology or counseling. They may be able to do an initial assessment if they have the appropriate training.

Advantages:

  • Is able to provide counseling, behavior management, and problem solving
  • Less expensive than psychiatric care

Disadvantages:

  • May have trouble with a differential diagnosis (identifying other possible problems)
  • Will need to refer patient to a doctor or other professional
  • Cannot prescribe medication

The Social Worker

A Master of Social Welfare (MSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is often employed by an agency (for example, public healthcare resources) to provide counseling to people served by the agency.

Advantages:

  • Inexpensive

Disadvantages:

  • May have trouble with a differential diagnosis (identifying other possible problems)
  • Will need to refer patient to a doctor or other professional
  • Cannot prescribe medication

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